Konga (1961) – By Timothy Martinez

 When is a movie about a giant ape not really a movie about a giant ape? When it’s called Konga. Then it is more about a mad scientist who is obsessed with both his work with strange plants and his efforts in trying to score with a girl that is far, far too young for him. Tossing in an oversized chimp that goes on a rampage at film’s end is merely a bonus.

Believed to have died in a plane crash in Africa, noted botanist Dr. Charles Decker reappears a year later in London, armed with a fantastic survival story and accompanied by a chimp named Konga. While living amongst the natives for that year, he was shown the miraculous properties of many of the local plants and he has now returned with seedlings from said plants in order to conduct his own experiments. He eventually creates a potion that enlarges the size of any creature that consumes it…thus transforming the cute little Konga into a man in a cheap ape suit. The potion also makes the now man-sized chimp completely obedient to Decker’s will – a situation the ever increasingly mad scientist uses to dispatch anyone who gets in his way, whether it is a professional competitor or a rival for his affections, the latter taking the form of a young woman who attends one of the classes he teaches.

I first saw this film when I was about eleven or twelve. At that age I was more obsessed with monsters than anything else, so I sat through the film only to see the parts featuring a giant monkey gone berserk. Since these came at the very end of the movie, my memories afterwards didn’t reflect highly on the film. In fact, I pretty much thought it was a piece of boring crap. Flash forward twenty odd years and the arrival of the film on DVD. Now I was eager to see it again, especially having learned that the lead role was played by Michael Gough. More recently known as Alfred the butler in the first four Batman films, he had a reputation in the late 50’s and early 60’s as a singular chewer of scenery. That, coupled with my more developed adult tastes and appreciation for things not involving giant monsters, made me quite eager to see the movie again and I was not disappointed when I did.

To describe Gough’s performance in this film as unrestrained is a gross understatement. He brings not only a high level of manic energy to his mad scientist, but quite a large helping of the “mad” quotient as well. Simply put, his Dr. Decker is freakin’ nuts. He literally bounces around many scenes, practically screaming his lines and spraying saliva all over anyone nearby. While that may not be enough to qualify him as insane, his actions with Konga the chimp certainly are and the murders he has the enlarged simian commit are just an extension of his own insane jealousy. The FX in the movie are laughable by today’s standards. Hell, I cannot see how anyone back then could have viewed the silly dolls used to represent diminutive humans to Konga’s giant chimp as anything but cheap and ridiculous. The ape suit used for the enlarged Konga is pretty phony as well, as are the crazy plants in Decker’s lab. Still, the film is just loaded with cheeze. Not the cheap, low budget cheeze of the 50’s or the more exploitive cheeze of the later 60’s, but a different kind of cheeze that is difficult to categorize. To best understand it, you’ll have to watch it for yourself.

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Rogue Reviewers Roundtable Topic: Mad Scientists

Tim’s Review Site: Shadow’s B-Movie Graveyard